Randy Sparks said there’s something peaceful and relaxing about taking a boat ride under the stars in the evening.
“Sometimes, I go out into the middle of the lake, shut the motor off and just let the boat drift. It’s just a pleasant experience,” said Sparks, an avid fisherman and boater who lives on Logan Martin Lake.
Sparks is not alone. Many boating and fishing enthusiasts enjoy spending a few hours relaxing on the water at night, especially during the spring and summer. That’s why the Logan Martin Lake Protection Association (LMLPA) is stepping up to make its waterway safer after sundown with solar lighted buoys.
Since 2019, the LMLPA, in partnership with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), has installed 53 lighted navigation buoys, marking sandbars, tree stumps and other possible shallow-water hazards that lie between Logan Martin and Neely Henry dams. Logan Martin is the second Alabama lake that has made the move to add these lighted buoys. The first was Lake Martin.
“We offered to head up this project on behalf of the ALEA,” said LMLPA President Bud Kitchin, noting that each lighted buoy can be seen from a distance of 1 to 2 nautical miles. “We care about the boaters, fishermen and swimmers who use our lake, and want to make it safer, more inviting and more user-friendly.”
Kitchin said the LMLPA has taken on every step of the process. Along with installing and maintaining each $500 buoy, the organization has raised $26,000 to support the project through annual antique car and boat shows, advertising on social media and donations from members and other sponsors.
“We have two goals,” said Kitchin. “In phase one, we plan to raise $50,000 to replace 100 ‘regular’ buoys with lighted ones. We plan to do the same in phase two, which means that by December 2022, we hope to have 200 lighted buoys on our lake.”
Installing the nearly 100-pound buoys is back-breaking work, said Dee Parsons, LMLPA buoy committee chair. After ALEA sends the global positioning system (GPS) coordinates indicating where to place the buoy, Parsons and LMLPA buoy committee members Sparks and David Carboni load it onto the organization’s pontoon boat and head to the chosen site.
“We fill a 5-gallon bucket with concrete, and that becomes the anchor,” said Parsons. “We then tether the buoy to one end of a stainless-steel cable and the anchor to the other end, and drop the anchor into the water.”
The last step, Parsons said, is to record the location by taking a photo of the floating buoy and posting it on the LMLPA website. Then, each spring, committee members will make the rounds to ensure each buoy is operating properly and replace its rechargeable battery, if needed.
The LMLPA installs two types of buoys. Most are shallow-water hazard buoys that serve as warning signs, alerting boaters to slow down and watch for underwater obstacles.
“There are places that look perfectly normal, but you could run into a sandbar or tree stump that you can’t see,” Parsons said. “When people come to the lake to enjoy this wonderful resource, it could tear up their boat and really ruin the day if they run over a hazard. The buoys are a way to warn people to stay away from those spots.”
There is a heavy fine for ignoring the second type of buoy. These are installed in no-wake zones such as near marinas. Drivers of boats or other water craft who speed past these markers will be cited by the Alabama Marine Police if they are caught, Kitchin said.
Sparks said knowing the lighted buoys are on the lake puts him at ease.
“On a nice night in the summer, there are boats everywhere. There are also a lot of people who come from out of town and don’t know the lake,” he said. “It gives you peace of mind and makes you feel safer to know the buoys are out there, and you can get through without any problems.”
Kitchin added, “A lot of people just love to get their pontoon boats out after dusk and enjoy the sunset. As you’re coming back home, those lighted buoys keep you away from hazards. It makes us feel good to know we are a catalyst for keeping the lake safe for our residents.”
Along with its lighted buoy program, the LMLPA is involved in many other efforts. It partners with Alabama Power to host Renew Our Rivers cleanups, conducts monthly water-quality testing at 30 locations, and heads educational efforts, such as the St. Clair County Water Festival and the Wetlands Boardwalk project. Last year, though the pandemic brought many activities to a halt, LMLPA members and community volunteers worked hard, removing nearly seven tons of trash from the water during lake cleanups.
Lisa Martindale said Alabama Power is proud to have the LMLPA on its team, helping to improve and protect the lake.
“I appreciate the work that the Logan Martin Lake Protection Association does to improve the safety and enjoyment of our beautiful resource,” said Martindale, reservoir management manager, Southern Company Generation. “The lighted buoy program is a great benefit to ensure boaters are aware of hazards while out on the lake.”
For more information or to donate to the LMLPA’s lighted buoy program, visit http://www.lmlpa.org/.
This story originally appeared on Alabama Power’s Shorelines.